Paul-JacobsIf we’ve learned anything from the past decade, it’s that standing still is not an option.  The radio industry is constantly bombarded by the next big thing that’s going to change habits, attract eyes and ears, and ultimately, force a response. The Internet, smartphones, mobile apps, social media, Pandora, Slacker, SiriusXM, the list goes on.  All of these have the potential to steal audience and revenue from radio. And now we need to add an old partner to the mix – the automobile.

The radio and the car have historically gone together like peanut butter and jelly.  We fondly remember when we first got our driver’s license, the first thing we did was turn on the radio.  It was a great experience, and of course, there weren’t too many other options.

Today, there are more options than ever for consumers to enjoy while driving, posing a challenge to radio’s dominance in the car.

The automobile remains the top advertising category and listening location for the radio industry, but that perch is being challenged.  Today, listeners are treated to numerous choices in the car, as the “radio” has evolved from two dials and five present buttons to something akin to a tablet with options from embedded apps (Pandora and iHeartRadio), mobile app synching, hard drives with thousands of songs, satellite radio, and more.

The “radio” is becoming merely an option in this new audio ecosystem.

After spending the past five years going to automotive and technology conferences like the Consumer Electronics Show, we realized that the radio industry has few relationships with the key decision-makers in the auto industry who are designing and making decisions on the entertainment systems of the future.  When we spoke with automotive leaders about radio, they base their knowledge on the relationships they have, regularly bringing up HD Radio, TuneIn, and iHeartRadio.  It’s not that they’re anti-radio; they just don’t know the radio industry enough to value it.

Our conclusion?  We needed to bring together leaders from automotive and radio to get a conversation started.  Since there were no obvious options, we decided to do it ourselves (along with the excellent conference team from Radio Ink).  The result was the DASH Conference, held last October.  It was two full days of education, engagement, and relationship-building.  Seated at the same table with people from ad agencies, car dealers, car companies, auto suppliers, and of course, radio, and the energy in the room was outstanding.

So why are we doing a DASH 2.0?

The primary reason is that we have heard from so many people who attended the event who felt that it was probably the most unique conference they had ever attended.  Most agreed it gave them the opportunity to meet with and hear from diverse professionals from an industry they thought they knew about.  Radio people have dealt with automotive for decades, but usually only when pitching business, setting up a remote, or buying a car themselves.  At DASH, they heard from industry leaders about the massive changes car entertainment systems are undergoing and their potential impact on listening and advertising plans.

The people who attended from the automotive side provided us with similar reactions.  Prior to DASH, few had ever spoken directly to people who work in radio.  Yet, they were impressed by what they saw, and not surprisingly, the session that featured local air talent like WRIF’s Dave & Chuck the Freak and Lisa Way, The Ticket’s Valenti & Foster, and WNIC’s Jay Towers was a highlight for them to see the “show business” side of radio.

But there are other reasons as well.  The first DASH Conference is so 2013 . . . . that’s right, this space is so dynamic that in the ensuing six months, Google has announced the Open Automotive Alliance – a consortium of OEMs dedicated to building a standard (based around Android, of course) that will exist in all automobiles of the future.  Does the radio industry have a seat at that table?  No, and it’s an issue we’ll tackle at DASH 2.0.

Apple just announced CarPlay, where iPhone owners will be able to link their content directly into the dashboard.  And there’s more change coming every day.  That could be a game changer that could impact both automotive and radio because of the importance of the smartphone in American lives.

Continuing this dialogue and deepening radio’s understanding of the task ahead is the primary reason why there’s DASH 2.0.  There is much more to learn and more experts to hear from so that radio has the best information and perspective.  For broadcasters to effectively play in this space, you’ll need a comprehensive strategy in order to maintain presence in the “center stack,” as well as advertising revenue.  Partnerships and contacts with the automotive world is where it starts.

DASH takes place October 15-16 at the same location as last year – the Westin Hotel here in Detroit.  Not only is it the best and most convenient airport hotel in the country, but Detroit is the center of the automotive universe.

The bottom line is that the car is an essential part of radio’s future, but there are no guarantees about how radio’s partnership with automotive will play out.  Our goal this year for DASH 2.0 is to not only continue the dialogue, but to set in motion more conversation that focuses on what the radio industry must do in order to continue to enjoy its historical relationship with the automobile – both via listening and revenue generation.

We hope you can join us.  More information about DASH can be found here: www.dashconference.com.

–Paul Jacobs, VP/GM, Jacobs Media/jacAPPS